Friday, July 30, 2010

Answer time! (I'm still suffering from FBS, so be warned)

Kathryn asked:I've checked out some of your older posts and I can't find anything on your progress towards getting an agent or writing your novel. Could you tell us more about that? :)

Hey Kathryn – I’m not sure if you want to know the details of my path to getting an agent, or just where I’m at in getting one. The word “progress” is what threw me off, because my progress to getting one is technically over as I do have an agent. I have two finished novels that she and I are working on revising and submitting, with a third that is also finished and needs revising but is on the back burner for now. If that is totally not what you wanted to hear, and instead you wanted to know what my path was, stay tuned because I am planning on doing a series of posts about my journey to getting my agent very soon.

Melissa asked: Hey Sara.... my internet's been down but I know you went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter recently and I'm going in a couple of weeks... I was just wondering if you remembered how expensive things were in the gift shops? Like did you think it was ridiculously expensive or was it reasonable?
Oh, the wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I love that place. A lot. The merchandise wasn’t cheap, but I figured it wouldn’t be, so I saved my money to get my souvenirs there. I got two shirts for myself and they were both around $20-$25. My sister waited in line for two hours to get a wand, and I believe she paid close to $30 for it. So not Rodeo Drive horrendous, but not cheap either. I hope you have a great time!

Also, I'd like to hear more about where you are in your journey as a writer.
As I mentioned above, I am agented and am working with her on two of my YA books. I’m hoping to have a deal before the end of the year (preferably much sooner than that!) but we’ll see. This business can be so slow – especially during the summer. Editors are pretty hard to get a hold of during August apparently, so… Hopefully something will happen sooner than later but you just never know.

(also, are you going to patent the title FBS because I rather like this syndrome.... :P)
I definitely think I should!

Carolyn V. asked:
Favorite writing snack. Fess up Sara. What do you eat when you write. (Please don't tell me you snack, although you might not because you are so skinny.) =)

Did you mean “please don’t tell me you don’t snack”? Oh dear. You’re going to be mad at me. Sometimes I do snack when I write, but most times I don’t. When I write, I'm just so absorbed that I forget to even eat meals, let alone snacks. Plus I can't stand typing with icky fingers (sticky, dirty, etc.) so I don't usually eat while I write. That doesn’t mean I don’t snack ever – I definitely do! However, I rarely ever buy myself candy or treats. Not because I don’t like them, I just don’t think to do it. It’s this weird mental thing that would take too long to explain in a Q&A. If you’re dying to know, I can do another post about it I guess. Ha ha! When I am going to snack on something it’s usually leftovers or desserts. The rare time I do get candy I love Swedish Fish, and Skittles (my favorite flavor is the green skittle in the purple bag), and I love those new fizzie ones. I also like tropical starbursts and I’m a pretty big fan of Symphony chocolate bars with toffee. My favorite kind of chocolate is hard to get here in the U.S. (although Ikea has made it much easier!), it's the Swedish chocolate Marabou. That chocolate is so amazing it will ruin you for almost all other kinds of chocolate bars. I do love Cadbury Mini Eggs that are only out at Easter. I can eat an entire bag in one sitting if I'm not careful. Also, one of my favorite snacks ever is to make ranch dip (the Hidden Valley kind with sour cream – fat free if I’m feeling guilty) and slice up cucumbers and celery and dip it in. Yum yum! Sometimes I’ll use potato chips to dip in it, too. Wow, that was a way longer answer than you anticipated, isn’t it? Oh well. Even snacking is complicated for me I guess. ;)

Janiel Miller asked:
When do you do your best writing?

I’d have to say when there aren’t distractions and when I have new music to listen to that I just love and haven’t gotten used to yet. It might be during naptime, or at night when the kids are asleep, but as long as no one is interrupting me every five minutes, I seem to get a lot more done. And when I have a new soundtrack or music to listen to that still gives me chills or makes my heart swell with emotion – that transfers to the page for me and I find that my stories just fly out through my fingers.

The Dixon Family asked:
I want to know how you are (present exhaustion excluded) and what type of book you are currently working on.)

I am up and down and all around. Life is kind of like that and so is the writing world. In life I am doing all that I can to be the best mom and wife possible. Some days go so well I feel exuberantly happy and secure with the “job” I’m doing and some days go so horrendously bad that I want to go hide in a corner and hire someone else to fix the messes I’m afraid I'm making. As far as writing goes, it’s about the same. One day I’ll get good news, or have a great writing day and feel like I can conquer the world and it’s only a matter of time before I have my deal! Others I feel like I’m never going to get there, even though I finally have an agent. So, overall I’m doing well. Ha, ha. :D
As for the type of book I’m working on, the two books I’m working on with my agent are both YA – one is fantasy that has been described as the tone of THE HUNGER GAMES meets the lyrical fantasy world of GRACELING, and the other is a paranormal romance about a girl with a unique ability that might end up getting her and everyone she loves killed. I’m also playing around with a new YA dystopian idea, but haven’t done too much on it yet.

I hope you enjoyed my answers. I am still suffering from FBS, so if they seem confusing and muddled, it’s because that is an apt description of my brain right now. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In which my brain is fried and I reveal things I might regret

So, let's just be honest right now. Multiple super long car rides + very little sleep + children + no food in the house = Fried Brain Syndrome. Hereafter known as FBS. In which I can't come up with a coherent blog post about writing.

Hence, instead I am going to ask all my shiny new followers that I've gotten in the past couple of months (and any of the old ones, too - you're also very shiny) if they have any questions they'd like me to answer? Yep, we're doing a good old Q&A. Ask me anything in the comments and I will answer them for you! (Okay, almost anything. Let's be honest here.) I'm not telling you about one of my most embarrasssing moments where I pretty much threw up on a guy who totally deserved it. He freakin' tried to kiss me after breaking up with me and I had the stomach flu at the time and was already on the verge. My eighteen-year-old self was mortified when I had to literally shove him away from me to hurl in the bushes. My twenty-seven-year old self laughs and thinks it would have been even more funny if I'd actually thrown up on him. I did tell him I didn't feel good and to stop it. Did he listen? Oh, no. I mean, HELLO! Why are you trying to kiss me after breaking up with me? But that still isn't a story I'd want to share. Oh... wait.

Okay, maybe I'll answer just about anything. So have at it!

(But be nice, did I mention I have FBS?) Or if you don't want to ask a question, tell me one of your most embarrassing moments! Can anyone top mine??

Monday, July 26, 2010


Why do I write? For some reason I'm in a nostalgic mood today, thinking about how far I've come in this journey (and yes, how far I still have to go), and it got me thinking about that question. Why do I write? With all the ups and downs and craziness of this business (and the sometimes sluggish pace, I might add), why do I keep at it?

I write because I love it. I always have, and I always will. I've written for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I have three stories running in my mind at once, sometimes I hit a dry spell and take a step back (although, not so much anymore, I usually make myself write through the dry spells now that I'm making it my career). But no matter what, I always come back to it. Whether my break was a day, a few weeks, or even a couple of years (like right after I got married and was worried my hubby would think I was nuts if I went and sat down in front of a computer for hours on end to "write a book").

Thankfully, one day, about six months after the birth of our first son, he asked me if there was anything I wish I could do if I had some extra time. He wanted to know something that I loved and wanted to do that I might be missing since getting married/having a child. I immediately told him I missed writing.

I explained how much I loved it, that I'd written more than twenty books throughout my life, and that I really, really missed sitting down with pen and paper (or at my computer) and writing a story. He was pretty surprised. He knew I "liked writing" but I'd never really admitted that I had two bins full of notebooks and printed "manuscripts" (if you could even call them that), hiding at my parent's house. There were even two I wrote in high school that I liked enough to three-hole punch and put in folders. Giving them the appearance of a real book to let family and very close friends read. (Oh yes, I still have those beat up folders. Not sure I'd ever let someone read any of those stories again though--at least, not without a MAJOR editing/rewrite job. )

Instead of laughing his head off at me, my DH immediately told me I should write again. He said he was taking our little boy and would let me have a few hours at least once a week to let me write.

Isn't he amazing? I love my husband and am so grateful for his support and belief in me. I started writing again that very afternoon.

So, why do you write?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Query Hint #3

Ready for another one?

Query Hint #3: Write the first draft of your query before you write your book. Or, if you're already half-way through, write it NOW. Don't wait.

Why would I give you this advice? Because the further you get into your story, the more details there will be in your head, and the harder it's going to be to whittle all those subplots and character arcs and everything else into two paragraphs. When you first think of the idea for your book, trying writing it out as a query. This will not only help you decide what your hook is, what the voice is, what the conflict is, and how to summarize it quickly; it will make your job ten times easier when you come back to the query when you're done and ready to start sending it out. So write it out, and then set it aside.

If you're already writing your book, take an hour or two and write out the query now.

Then, once you are done with your book, go back to that query. You will definitely find yourself revising it. Especially if you ended up having your plot go a different direction than you thought, or if your MC's voice didn't come out quite how you expected. If you already have that early version of your query done though, you will have a great way to gage if you accomplished what you set out to do, and will have less work to do trying to squash your 70,000+ word mss into two paragraphs.

This will also help you to be able to see if you accomplished both hints #1 and #2: does your query pitch what you're claiming to be pitching? and does it show your MCs voice? (And did your manuscript end up doing those same things?)

So, no matter what stage you're at in your manuscript, don't put it off any longer. Go write the query now. And if you have a new idea bouncing around your head, go see how a query pitch for it turns out on paper. Even if you completely change your query in the end, doing that in the beginning can really help you figure out what you hope to accomplish with the next manuscript you are going to write.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Back to Query Hints (#2)

So, before I left for Florida, I gave you my first hint on successful queries.

Here's hint #2: make sure your query shows your MCs voice.

Queries are tricky little things, because you have to accomplish so much with so little. One of the most important things that you need to succeed at (and that will get your request rate to probably double), is to show the voice of your main character in the paragraph(s) that describe your book. A query with a great hook and no voice will probably still get some requests, but a query with a great hook and a fabulous show of voice will probably get at least twice as many requests to read more.

You might be thinking "that's great, but how do I show voice in a query?" (Especially if your mss is written in first person when the query has to be in third person?)

I heard a great little tidbit once that you might want to give a try. Write it in first person. Don't SEND it in first person, just write it that way until it shines. Most people find that it's easier to show voice in first person. Ask yourself how would Jane/John (or whatever your character's name is) explain their story? Is Jane snarky and outgoing or is Jane shy and reticent? Is John hilarious and quirky, or is he an angsty MC with an attitude? Every one of those options would tell their story differently, right?

Then, once you have a great paragraph or two, told in your character's voice, you go back through it and change the I's to she/he/the MC's name. You may have to tweak it a little bit once you change it to third person to make it read cleanly, but those changes shouldn't be too hard.

You might be surprised at how much voice that simple exercise will help give your query. Try it and let me know how it goes. Good luck to all of you out there in the query trenches!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Five

Five Random Thoughts for your Friday enjoyment:

1. Authors are awesome (or frawesome as Elana J. would say). They are giving, they are understanding, they are inspirational, they are just dang cool. Don't you agree? I love being able to hang out with other authors, and I'm very lucky to have so many where I live that are so friendly.

2. Why is it in style to be tan? Why can't it still be considered fashionable to be pale and healthy? I mean, seriously - who decided "You know what would be really attractive? Having everyone get burned by the sun until their skin changes colors to varying degrees of brown, grows freckles and moles and wrinkles and cancer! That would be truly beautiful." Who?? Didn't it use to be a sign of your status and wealth to have flawless white skin? Now to look good, I have to age my skin, and risk death by melanoma. Yes, I've had a melanoma scare on my back, and it was not fun. And somehow I still find myself thinking, maybe I'll just wear 15 spf today so I can get a little color. What is wrong with us? (or is it just me?)

3. While we're on the subject, why did being so stinkin' skinny become fashionable too? Being pleasantly plump also used to be a sign of status - why can't it still be a good thing? Then I could go eat three more of my caramel chip bars and not feel like I need to go run for an hour to "deserve" it. Okay, who am I kidding, I'm going to eat them anyway.

4. I know I'm opening myself up to all sorts of attacks with this one, but I just have to put it out there. The best line in ECLIPSE (the movie) is when Jacob says, "You know I'm hotter than you." (I think that's the exact quote, but if I got it a little bit wrong, you still know which on I'm talking about.) The whole theater I was in cheered at that one. So true, so true young werewolf or shapeshifter or whatever you are. Even though you are a foot shorter than you're supposed to be, you are definitely hotter than poor Robert Patty; and you are the one who accomplished what Rob/Edward couldn't - you actually produced chemistry when you kissed Bella.

5. I love movie soundtracks, and I'm always listening to the music in movies I see to try and find new music to write to. Some of my favorite composers are Hans Zimmer, James Horner, and Howard Shore, but there are many others. I just love music. Some of my favorite music I've heard recently is actually from the HP7 movie preview. I really hope that is the actual soundtrack music, because it's gorgeous, and I have no idea where I can find it if it's not the soundtrack. Does anyone have any clue? Probably not, but just thought I'd put it out there. I know many authors dream of having their books made into movies someday, and I'm one of them - but one of my biggests reasons why is because I want to have a soundtrack that is because of my story and my characters. How cool would that be?

So what are you thinking about today?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vacations are like rough drafts

Okay, go with me on this for a minute. Due to a family wide case of the major-bad flu (excepting me for now), mountains of laundry threatening to bury my bedroom and everything in it, and needing to banish my new friends that came home from Florida with me (4 lbs courtesy of Disney World meal plan), my brain is sort of on the fritz. However, I will still try to have this make sense. Wish me luck.

Going on vacation is like writing a first draft of a novel. You have freedom! You can have fun to your heart's content! You get to go anywhere, and do anything you want! Vacation is a break from the day-to-day blah-ness of life; it's a blissful state of ditching reality and living in pursuit of happiness with no restrictions from work and other stuff like that. (I know, this is one eloquent post, right? ha ha)

Coming home is like going back to that rough draft to start editing. Suddenly there are rules governing your life - bedtimes, naptimes, mealtimes, bills, budgets, work and school and cleaning. These "rules" must be adhered to or else everything falls apart at the seams. You have to organize the mess that inevitably follows a vacation back into order. Or, in my case, at least try to organize it.

So, when you're writing that rough draft, don't let yourself get bogged down by all the rules and constrictions of editing and revising. Just get the story out. Finish it. Write. The. Whole. Thing. Enjoy the pure power of creativity that flows when you're letting those words flow from your mind to your fingers, through the keys, and onto the screen.

Then come back and clean up your mess later.

Did that make sense? Well, hopefully it did, at least a little bit. I better run, my laundry seems to be flowing out of the room and threatening to bury my sick children and husband, too. Can clothes multiply spontaneously?

Monday, July 12, 2010

I'm baaack!!

Hey everyone! I made it back home, but I kind of wish I wasn't. This was one of those trips that you wish could have just kept going. We had a total blast in Florida. I hope you enjoyed the guest posts while I was away.
Celebrating the 4th of July at Disney World was truly magical.
Our family at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. Aren't my boys handsome?

Now... remember that picture I posted last Saturday of "this is where I am, down in that crowd?" I pulled that off the web before I left... and it ended up not being quite as accurate as I thought it would.

This is what we ended up looking like for at least half of the trip (at Disney World anyway) -- it kept raining! I think the drowned rat look is good on me though, right? No? Oh well. The upside of the rain was that it wasn't too hot at all, and the crowds weren't that bad at all. Also, it made for some great memories - getting soaked, walking barefoot through the rivers that were once sidewalks, and many more fun things. My sisters, my mom, and I (and the boys) all wore a lot of hats. Ha ha. The sun came out and stayed when we left Disney World and went to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. Yes, that is Hogwarts in the background and a frozen butterbeer in my hand. I know it is cliche, but my hero is J.K. Rowling and I really, really love the Harry Potter series. Being here at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was like being in a dream. The ride was incredible (totally worth the 2.5 hour wait, plus I got to go twice because of child swap! woot!) - and the town of Hogsmeade was amazing. I didn't ever want to leave.

We ended our trip at Cocoa Beach (which I love - my DH and I spent a day here last year for our anniversary). The water is warm and shallow (which is good since my boys are little fishies with no fear of the ocean - Son A got a body board and surfed the waves with us for hours). This is me and my sister body boarding.

What a wonderful trip!
Now, back to reality. After going to the WWofHP and seeing the trailer for the 7th movies (almost made me cry just watching the trailer... I know, I'm a baby), I am seriously considering putting off the 100+ books on my TBR list to reread the HP series before the movies end. We'll see...
So that is what I've been doing for the last ten days. I took over 200 pictures, but I figured you wouldn't want to see ALL of them, ha ha.
Stay tuned for my next post in which I try to make an analogy of how vacation is kind of like writing that first draft of a novel and how coming home and getting back to "real life" is sort of like the revision process. Intrigued?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

GUEST POST: NATALIE WHIPPLE "What I'd Wish I'd known While Querying"

I'm thrilled to have ninjarific Natalie Whipple on my blog today. Not only is she an awesome author repped by the illustrious Nathan Bransford, she's also a talented artist. She may or may not have a horrible fear of public speaking. I almost had to catch her at a writer's conference we were both speaking at. Luckily she didn't faint, so I didn't have to employ my own vast ninja skills to save her. Okay, I have no ninja skills. But I did go to nursing school so I was ready to do any first aid necessary. Anyway, I'm so glad to have her here today. If you aren't already a follower of her blog, you'd better get on the bandwagon pronto! (click here)

What I Wish I’d Known While Querying

Sara asked me to do a guest post on this topic while she was away. So hi there, Sara readers! I hope you’re all doing well. I’m not sure any of this will be helpful, but it has been interesting to look back and think about my time in the query trenches.

*two days later*

Wow, so I’ve been trying to come up with some kind of gem for you all, some tidbit of knowledge that would help you through querying. I gotta admit, I got nothing.

First I was gonna say something like “I wish I’d known I wasn’t ready to query.” But then I realized if I’d known that I never would have tried, and then I never would have learned all the things I did by querying.

I made a lot of silly mistakes, but I also grew as a writer, met my crit partners, and became part of the online writing community.

Those are all things I’d never take back, even if I still cringe when I realize my own agent probably has my very first, very horrible query.

Then I was gonna try “I wish I’d known how long it would take.” Well, read the above answer for that. It took me two years from my first query to land an agent. If I’d really known it would be that much waiting…yeah, I’d have taken up crocheting ninjas instead of writing about them.

Same with “I wish I’d known how hard it would be emotionally,” “I wish I’d known the journey didn’t end at The Call,” “I wish I’d known rejection truly isn’t personal, and that they mean it when they say this business is subjective.”

I guess I’m saying, in a round about way, that ignorance is bliss. It’s okay that you don’t know everything yet, and I guess I don’t regret going into this business green as grass. I mean, you gotta start somewhere, right? As long as you’re willing to learn, things will eventually work out, no matter how much you know when you send off that first horrible query letter.

If I’d really known how it was, I probably would have saved myself the trouble. Or at least sometimes I think that. Sometimes I miss the naive dreamy days, when hope abounded and reality was for other people. I don’t think I want to take that away from anyone by telling them my regrets. Because if I’m being honest, my wish-I’d-knowns pale in comparison to everything I’ve received through honest effort, persistence, and a lot of starry-eyed hope.

Isn't she awesome? Her honesty, humor, and wisdom are only some of the reasons I love Natalie and her blog. Thank you again!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

GUEST POST: ELLE STRAUSS "The Road to Publication or Writing’s A Little Like The Game Of PacMan"

I'm so excited to have Elle on my blog today. She has a wonderful blog you can check out here and she is repped by the fabulous Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. I hope you enjoy her post as much as I did!

Do you remember that old arcade game PacMan? The little jellyfish icon (You) has to find its way through a dark maze to the end to win the game—only the world is full of peril, a little yellow biting mouth thing is chasing you and before you know it, you’re doomed, swallowed up by the little yellow biting mouth. The WIN alludes you.

The road to publication is much like that. It’s a dark and nebulous without much for directional markings. And if you are fortunate to make it to out of the maze unscathed, your victory dance is short lived—because there is ANOTHER LEVEL.

First Level: Write the book to the end. This is surprisingly hard. No doubt there is many a drawer with an unfinished novel residing in it (or computer file).
Second Level: Perfect the book. Since nothing is perfect this is a near impossible level to pass. You can see early on that we are set up to fail and only writers with Indiana Jones type luck, skill and bulldogged determination can ever hope to cross the gapping chasm to the....
Third Level: The murky waters of Querydom. This level takes a lot of mental fortitude to win. The little jellyfish icon must BELIEVE it can beat the level, and if it (you) keep trying, over and over again, you will succeed.
Fourth Level: Yeah!!! You made it to Agentdom! You spit on Querydom, and stamp on it with your jellyfish feet.
Fifth Level: Agentdom has an eerie resemblance to the second level—more perfecting with Agent guidance. Jelly fish sucks it up and perseveres.
Sixth Level: Whoo-hoo! Venturing out in Submissionville. So exciting, so nerve-wracking, so LONG. Some find they get antsy at just how long they traverse the maze at this stage and begin to wonder if they’ll ever see the next level—it’s some kind of purgatory, level six— endless travels down dark alleys....
Seventh Level: You did it! You got a book deal! You won the game!

Only now you find you’re in another game.

So, you’re wondering, If it’s so hard to win, why play at all? Because it’s FUN. And isn’t that why we started writing? Because we liked it? We thought it was fun. And that’s why we keep writing. It doesn’t really matter what level we’re on, does it? As long as it’s still fun. And if it’s not, well, maybe it’s time to give it a rest, find something else that is fun, right?

This is the reality on the bumpy road to publication—if you’re in it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re in it for anything other than the love of the game, you’re going to be disappointed because many worthy contenders never make it to the seventh level. And that’s okay.

How about you? Are you still having fun?

See? I told you she's awesome. Very inspiring and true. I'm in this business because I love it and just can't quit. No matter how many levels I have to keep trying to pass to get there. Thanks again Elle!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In case you were wondering

This is where I am. This means I survived the five hour plane ride with my two young boys on Thursday. (My first time travelling by plane with either of them. Yikes!)
My family and I are squished down there in that crowd somewhere. Okay, not this exact crowd, because let's face it, I'm not sitting in my hotel room uploading pics from Disney World. I'm at Disney World waiting in line for a ride, I'm sure. In a crowd that is something close to this. I'm sure I'm sweaty from the 100% humidity, and hopefully not sunburned. But I guarantee I'm having a blast!

I will be watching fireworks above this castle for the 4th of July. How about you? Any fun plans? I hope so! Happy Independence Day to all my American followers!

Stay tuned for some awesome guest posts next week.